A seat at the top table?

October 22, 2012

To add to the sense of woe permeating Phnom Penh this week, following the death of King-Father Norodom Sihanouk, the capital awoke on Friday to discover that Cambodia had failed in its bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The United Nations’ 15-member power bloc has the ability to impose sanctions and authorize military interventions, and Cambodia desperately wanted to bolster its international credentials by winning the seat. It claimed it had a great deal of experience in ‘conflict management’, which is probably, at best, about 50 percent true – it’s good at conflict, less so at management.

The country has been campaigning hard since the start of 2011, and had claimed that it had confirmed support from more than 100 countries, including, crucially, all nine of the other members of the Association of South East Asean Nations (ASEAN). In the event, however, Cambodia got a mere 43 votes, far short of the two-thirds majority needed. The winner of the seat in Asia was South Korea, with 149 votes.

Observers were not entirely surprised that Cambodia failed in its quest, after its abject performance as chair of ASEAN this year. The kingdom, which is basically in China’s pocket, allowed itself to be manipulated into keeping the important issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea off the agenda at ASEAN meetings. One ASEAN diplomat described Cambodia’s chairmanship as “the worst ever”. The UN vote was secret, so we’ll never know if all nine ASEAN members did as they had promised, and voted for Cambodia. But I suspect not.

Human rights is another issue where Cambodia’s performance has been less than stellar this year. Readers may remember the murder of environmental activist Chut Wutty, the shooting dead of a 14-year-old girl who was protesting having her family’s land being forcibly taken away, the jailing of an elderly radio station owner for ‘secessionist activities’, the forcible relocation of hundreds of poor Cambodians at Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh so that various senior politicians can build luxury gated housing projects, and the butchering of a journalist who was looking into illegal logging.

None of these things inspire much confidence in Cambodia as a grown-up country.

Although, saying that, Rwanda won one of the other UN seats, despite apparently supporting a rebellion in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. And their genocide was much more recent than Cambodia’s. If Cambodia inspires less international confidence than Rwanda, than we’re really up the creek.

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2 Responses to “A seat at the top table?”

  1. Georgie Manners said

    Plse be careful R?!

  2. jorgina said

    I like the way your write, will be coming by often. Cheers.

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